Often ministry – lay people’s ministry just like clergy’s ministry – is one of life’s less tangible commodities. But, as I have often told candidates preparing for ministry, the fruits of most ministry efforts are not immediately, readily or perhaps ever visible… often not even confirmable. Ministry is usually about doing things that one ends up left HOPING will make a difference.
It’s always special then when one encounters the positive results of a ministry effort. I had a lovely example of that recently.
There is a new couple in our community, and when I met with them over a meal, to get to know them better, they shared with me the difficulties they’ve faced in the last few years. Personal illnesses, the death of loved ones, job difficulties, unemployment, financial hard times, a foreclosure, recurrent moves. It’s been a tough passage for them.
After we had talked about all that, apparently I posed a question, “Where was Jesus in all this?” It’s sort of my “vest pocket question”! A colleague made me laugh once by accusing me of using this question like a crutch… as a psychotherapist might rely on “And how did that make you feel?”
But I’ve found the question an effective segue. Or how I can lightly ask someone who has shared personal parts of their life with me to go further. Certainly, people often want to tell me what’s going on for them: there’s something cathartic and affirming in being seen. It’s called “the ministry of presence.”
But what if there’s more I can offer or do?
I use “the question” to invite people to ask themselves how they might apply their religious outlook, experiences and reflections to what has happened to them. Our faith lives offer many more resources for the rest of our lives than we often recognize or take advantage of.
So it was a delight to get this note some months after we spoke:
“I have always believed Jesus teaching that in sharing, we find our true lives. But for a while I began missing the message. You helped me come back to it when you asked about where Jesus was in all that had happened.
You and I never got to speak further about all this, but I wanted you to know the simple promise implied in your question made me think. I realized that in the past three years, I got sidetracked and started focusing on and trying to believe in people, even myself, who — it turned out — weren’t much help. Instead of looking to Jesus — as I had always done in the past. Suddenly, after your question, I saw my problems in a different light… and that has started to pull me past some of our bad recent past. I have a long way to go, but I must thank you for your words.”
Mine may be a good question, but I’m pretty sure it was really God who is helping her begin to move forward…
Nonetheless, I invite you to try it.
1. Choose something happening in your life. A burden you carry. A disappointment you can’t seem to get past. A challenge that lies daunting before you. A worry you haven’t dared share with anyone. Even an accomplishment you can’t quite believe you pulled off.
2. And then set yourself to some reflecting.”Where is Jesus in what’s happening to me?”
You might come upon some answers quickly.
Or perhaps the question will linger with you, and possibilities, such as they are, will only begin to appear like morning burning off the fog.
Or one question will lead to other questions.
But, I believe, however your reflection proceed, mysteriously – as much Holy Spirit as any of your powers of reflection – the “other parts” of your life will have been pulled up alongside of and start relating to the places you do know God’s presence, movement and power.
See you in church,